When we first moved in to our warehouse back in February of 2008 we were less than thrilled with the heating situation. Don’t get me wrong – the place was the perfect size for the perfect price, and to be honest the low cost of operating it is probably one of our biggest assets…but the heating situation still sucked.
There were two oil heating units, one for the office and one for the warehouse, both of which looked like they were no less than fifty years old. The place hadn’t had an occupant in over five years, so the oil at the bottom of the tanks had turned in to almost exclusively oil sludge. The heater that was supposed to be heating the warehouse was pointed directly at a cement wall about five feet away, and about ten feet away from a garage door that looked about fifty years old as well.
We figured we’d do everything we could to make the most of a bad situation. We sprayed foam in every gap we could around the garage door and anywhere else in the place that we thought air was getting through. We spent thousands of dollars over the years having the heaters maintenanced in hopes of adding a few percentage points of efficiency. We kept garage doors shut unless it was absolutely necessary. We installed programmable thermostats to try to optimize our oil usage. The list goes on.
None of it worked really. When you live in the northeast, you’re dealing with several months of freezing temperatures. You need good heating. This was not good heating. From the first week we moved in it was nothing but a disaster. The oil tanks were improperly filled by the company we contracted out and the heating system turned off. We thought we had a full tank of oil. Turns out we were running off that old sludge.
That was when we realized the other thing that sucks about oil – it’s expensive and you need to pre-pay for it. The first real fill-up cost us over $3k. Detailed Image’s slowest months are January and February. It sucks having to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to pre-pay for heating when your cash flow is at it’s tightest, as it especially was during those first two winters.
And who can forget the smell. The smell of oil burning made my stomach sick (or, you know, maybe more properly, breathing in burning oil made my stomach sick). My clothes would smell like oil when I’d go home. There’s no way it was safe for us or for our employees to be breathing that air in from those shitty heaters.
When it became abundantly clear that those heaters weren’t going to get the job done, no matter what we tried, we started complaining. We were able to get the industrial park to put in a new garage door, free of charge. That was a huge win.
Then our lease came up for renewal. Again, the price that we pay per square foot at this place is really cheap. Like half as much as we’d pay for similar places around here. So it’s not that easy to negotiate a major expense like a new heater. Thankfully, we have Greg, aka “the pitbull” who was able to take their initial offer – a propane system that we paid for – and eventually get them to agree to a natural gas heater that they paid for. Natural gas was highly preferable to propane for us – it’s cheaper, we avoid pre-paying, and it doesn’t smell.
Then sometime around early March – still heating season in these parts – the large oil heater stopped working completely. We suffered through the end of winter with the one tiny heater meant for the office area, taking solace in the fact that a new heater was coming.
A few months later they started installation on the new heating unit. The coordination between the natural gas company and our industrial park’s team of contractors stretched out the installation until yesterday. I kid you not. This took a solid 5 months to install. During that 5 months they probably spent 10 man days total working on the unit. It was freezing in here last week, but again, we put up with it knowing that things would be better this winter.
Finally, finally yesterday the unit was turned on for the first time. Of course, they gave us a cheap thermostat. So this morning I installed a nice programmable thermostat and we finally should be all set.
The heater is a beast! Here’s a quick pic I snapped with my phone:
It’s meant to warm areas twice as large as ours. We were skeptical about it’s ability to heat our entire place, but it’s doing a great job. You can feel it all the way in the other corner of the warehouse. It’s a much more evenly spread warmth than we ever had with the crappy oil system. We’ll be able to keep the temperature at a much more comfortable setting in the dead middle of winter, we’ll still probably pay quite a bit less, and we won’t have to pre-pay for it and keep track of the tank levels.
This has been a thorn in our side since the day we moved in. It has taken up way, way more of our collective time than I want to think about. But now it is finally solved. Sometimes you can never anticipate the crazy shit you have to deal with as a business owner.
Update 1/13/2016 – our unit is made by Modine
Update 2/24/2016 – I closed comments on the post. Most people have been asking for numbers or for more info on the Modine. Our numbers are from last winter and are probably not as accurate anymore, especially given fuel cost fluctuations, and we don’t know much about the Modine heater. We’d have to get up on a ladder to look for the model number, I can’t find it from the ground.